Many online classes and apps promise to turn learning a foreign language into child’s play. But none of them work unless they mesh well with the pupil’s personal knowledge and individual learning curve.

That said, being able to make yourself understood in the local language when you’re abroad is useful and fun, even if the way there can be hard. And traditional language courses or educational books can be a drag.

Thus, the new Web 2.0 language courses, which offer more excitement and entertainment. There are also online courses that individualise themselves for each student.

A person’s ability to learn can be charted on a matrix with three areas, explains education specialist Michaela Meier of Projekt Bildung Institut in Augsburg, Germany, an educational organisation.

“The way it’s processed can be completely different. Some people handle this very rationally: others more emotionally.” A person’s learning characteristics are heavily influenced by their communications and media use habits.

The advances made by the 3 million users of the language lesson portal Busuu show how different learning functions can be.

“We want to use this data to create an intelligent learning platform that can factor in the individual learning process,” says Bernhard Niesner, the Austrian founder of Busuu. “This is a big challenge for me and there’s a lot still to do.”

At Busuu — the name is derived from a Cameroonian language threatened with extinction — there are nine different languages people can learn online: English; Spanish; Portuguese; Italian; German; Russian; French; Polish and Turkish. More languages are expected to be added this year, like Japanese and Mandarin.

“Smartphones are especially conducive to quickly learning foreign languages,” says Vicente Arioli, who works at developing apps at Cornelsen publishers in Berlin. “The lessons have to be divided into little bites, so you can squeeze them in, like on the metro.” People who want to concentrate for a longer time are better off heading to a PC or using a tablet. Cornelsen happens to have vocabulary trainers and educational crime novels available for the iPhone and iPad.

Keywords: Internet apps

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